Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Convenience Store Woman - a Japanese novel now translated to English: Japanese title ''Konbini Ningen'' - “コンビニ人間” (Convenience Store Woman [Konbini Ningen]) by 村田沙耶香 (Sayaka Murata)

“コンビニ人間” (Convenience Store Woman [Konbini Ningen]) by Ms. 村田沙耶香 (Ms. Sayaka Murata)

Keiko Furukura lives an atypical life. At thirty-six-years-old, she's a virgin and completely disinterested in romantic relationships. She has worked part-time at a Japanese convenience store for eighteen years. Her family was thrilled when she was first employed because they saw it as a sign of her growth as a person. Keiko has always been considered peculiar, but the job helped her finally become an "ordinary person." The convenience store is "a dependable, normal world" where she's valued as an equal amongst her coworkers and receives no scrutiny about her personal life. Best of all, there's a written manual that tells her exactly how she needs to behave! She absorbs the personalities of her coworkers and uses them to construct her own "normal person" identity: "Infecting each other like this is how we maintain ourselves as human." Everyone assumed that the convenience store was just the first step in Keiko's journey to bigger and better things, but she's still in the same spot almost two decades later. The biggest sign of her evolution has become additional evidence of her deficiencies.

I absorb the world around me, and that’s changing all the time. Just as all the water that was in my body last time we met has now been replaced with new water, the things that make up me have changed too.

Keiko's atypical lifestyle causes discomfort for everyone around her. She's such an anomaly! Her family and friends are always trying to fix her, but she feels perfectly fine the way she is. The only thing that causes her discomfort is everyone else's judgment! She has a stockpile of vague prepared answers to defuse awkward situations, but those answers aren't working anymore as she ages. Keiko values her relationships and doesn't want to be cut off from her social groups, so she decides that it might be easier to just meet their demands. She doesn't even have to lie! She announces a life change and everyone fills in the blanks based on the standard story. Sadly, she realizes she never really belonged at all, even with the people she felt the most comfortable. As she takes a single step into normalcy, even her safe places become places of scrutiny.  Succumbing to one societal demand just leads to more expectations. Keiko notices that having a troubled normal life is more acceptable than having a content abnormal life.

“Look, anyone who doesn’t fit in with the village loses any right to privacy. They’ll trample all over you as they please. You either get married and have kids or go hunting and earn money, and anyone who doesn’t contribute to the village in one of these forms is a heretic. And the villagers will come poking their noses into your life as much as they want.”

At 176 pages, this darkly quirky novel is a quick read. Japanese convenience stores sound amazing! I never thought I'd want to visit another country and immediately run to a convenience store! The language is plain and some of the concepts were mentioned repetitively, but I adored Keiko. She has a cold, logical attitude, but I felt so warm towards her (despite some of her darker inclinations)! I really liked the relationship between Keiko and her sister and how it evolved throughout the story. This little novel also tapped into some deep rage! Keiko encounters frequent misogyny throughout the story. Keiko's experiences triggered memories of rude comments I received when I was a romantic late bloomer, during a brief stint at Taco Bell, and while I was pursuing an art degree. Even when I got a great design job right out of college, one of my professors responded, "Oh well! We all have to start somewhere!" Those experiences made me feel extra empathetic towards Keiko. The awkward scenes where Keiko is singled out made me cringe!

The normal world has no room for exceptions and always quietly eliminates foreign objects. Anyone who is lacking is disposed of. 
So that’s why I need to be cured. Unless I’m cured, normal people will expurgate me. 
Finally I understood why my family had tried so hard to fix me.

The convenience store mirrors life; the parts change, but the whole stays the same. Perhaps we're still trapped in old-fashioned social paradigms, even though we tend to see ourselves as more evolved than people from past eras. An innate "manual" is passed on to everyone for centuries: get married, have babies, make more money. Anyone who doesn't meet those standards must be persuaded to take the correct path or be ostracised. Of course, even if you meet those standards, there's always something else to obtain. When it comes to making everyone happy, the goalposts are constantly moving! Keiko also notices there's always someone lower in the hierarchy. People who feel attacked find their own people to lash out at. Everyone, even her equals, is vocal about what's wrong with Keiko and what she needs to do to succeed. Will Keiko be able to drown out all the voices and accept her true calling or will she conform to societal demands?

Convenience Store Woman is a strange little book with an interesting protagonist! If you like this book, I think you might also like Nineveh by Henrietta Rose-Innes.

I received this book for free from Netgalley and Grove Atlantic/Grove Press. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. It will be available June 12, 2018.
Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader & Traveling Sister
Mar 24, 2018rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader & Traveling Sister by: Taryn
4 quirky stars to Convenience Store Woman! ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Keiko was always a little different in her parents’ eyes. When she went to college, she got a job at a local convenience store. She tried her best to fit in by copying the other employees there, from their clothing to their mannerisms. Life passes by, and many years later, Keiko is still working at the convenience store. No one around Keiko is comfortable with her choice to stay there, but she is content...until she tries her best to change.

Mar 21, 2018rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The moment I finished reading this story - I immediately wanted to know everything about the author- Sayaka Murata. WHO IS SHE? I was screaming inside about how WONDERFUL she must be.

This book is a GEM!!!!! Awe-inspiring writing — irresistible—and weirdly outlandish!

My gosh...I had the best laugh when I discovered that ‘our author’ —-one of Japan’s most exciting contemporary writers—[I AGREE,I AGREE] —‘really’ works as a part time employee in a convenience store. Talk about material for inspira

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